Among the many classics in video game history, System Shock doesn’t get enough credit for how revolutionary it was. It’s one of the earliest immersive sims and went on to influence games like Deus Ex. The sound design, non-linear gameplay, combat, horror elements, and more were considered ahead of their time and would inspire gaming for years.
After Enhanced Editions for System Shock 1 and 2, Nightdive Studios’ remake of the first game is finally on the cusp of release. It’s out this month for PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, and PC. What makes it so notable, and what should new fans know about the gameplay? Let’s go over 15 things about the remake here.
The first thing you’ll notice about the System Shock remake is its massively overhauled visuals courtesy of Unreal Engine 4. While the art direction adheres to the original’s spirit, there’s a wider color palette, realistic lighting, massively improved character models, detailed textures and effects, and so on. It’s a massive leap over the original but feels like an early 90s interpretation of a cyberpunk future.
Set in 2072, the story is about a hacker (the protagonist) who travels to Citadel Station after being caught accessing files on the same. In exchange for all charges dropped and receiving a military-grade implant, you agree to hack SHODAN, the station’s AI. Once all this is done, the protagonist has the implant installed and goes into a six-month-long coma.
Unfortunately, upon awakening, they learn that SHODAN has gone rogue with much of the crew either dead, mutated or converted into cyborgs. One must stop SHODAN, ideally before she can destroy the Earth.
The entirety of the story takes place in Citadel Station, which is massive in scale. It features numerous sectors like the hospital, Flight Deck, the Executive level with various Groves serving as the living and entertainment quarters, and much more. When SHODAN takes control, everything collapses, and the once-peaceful station becomes a battleground. It’s worth noting that the level design has seen some changes, with certain areas opened up and “unnecessary” mazes removed.
The biggest star of System Shock is SHODAN, Citadel Station’s all-encompassing AI. Hailed as one of gaming’s greatest villains, she’s voiced by Terri Brosius, who returns to reprise the role in the remake. Other noteworthy characters include TriOptimum executive Edward Diego, who first hired the hacker to hack SHODAN, and Rebecca Lansing, a consultant for TriOptimum who guides the player throughout.
Aside from them, there are no NPCs. It’s just you and the station’s horrors while SHODAN mocks your feeble attempts.
What truly set System Shock apart at the time was its emergent gameplay. Inspired by the Ultima Underworld series (Looking Glass worked on the second game), one traverses the station, obtaining data through discs and emails while trying to get past SHODAN’s obstacles. While the original was more of an action-adventure title in the first-person perspective, the remake is more of a first-person shooter/RPG in terms of fluidity and movement.
There are several different melee and ranged weapons to acquire, each with its purpose. You have a Lead Pipe for melee attacks; sidearms like the ML-41 Minipistol and Magnum 2100 with different ammo types; and various grenade types like Concussion, EMP, Gas, and so on. There are also different ammo types for firearms, whether it’s tranquiliser darts for a more stealthy approach or armor-piercing rounds to, well, break through armor.
Unlike traditional FPS titles, you can’t just go in and shoot or swing wildly. Different enemies are susceptible to different types of damage, so EMP is good against robots, while Gas is effective against Mutants. You can only carry seven at a time, so choose wisely.
In addition to commandeering all the robots in Citadel Station, SHODAN has turned its various residents into mutants and cyborgs. You’ll fight Cyborg Assassins with silent rifles, the more heavily built Cyborg Elite Guard and Cyborg Enforcer, Plant Mutants, Zero-Grav Mutants, and even creatures like a Gorilla Tiger. There are even Mutated Cyborgs to deal with when not fending off the various Security Bots aboard the station.
To help even the odds, there are Dermal Patches which provide all kinds of benefits at the cost of some detriments. The Staminup Stimulant reduces fatigue but can cause full fatigue later; the Berserk Combat Booster increases melee damage but affects color perception; and the Genius Mind-Enhancer makes it easier to solve puzzles, but switches the left and right directions. The only Dermal Patch without a downside is the Medipatch Healing Agent, which slowly heals injuries.
Updated Controls and Revamped UI
The original System Shock was revolutionary for its controls, allowing players to look up, down, left and right, crouch and crawl in a 3D space. It didn’t have mouse free look, however. By comparison, the remake does and completely revamps the UI to look sleeker and cleaner.
The remake promises new sounds and music, but its procedural music system is still intact and as incredible as ever. It essentially plays through different soundcards to create music, resulting in varying music that changes depending on the pace, location of enemies, and so on. Overall, Nightdive seeks to keep the original score’s “spirit alive by pushing the boundaries of interactive music and sound design today” and create the most immersive and interactive score for System Shock possible.”
When SHODAN blocks off the player’s progress, you must enter CyberSpace through a nearby terminal and clear a path. The original interpretation was a wireframe environment that you slowly navigated through. The remake changes this by having free 3D movement and shooter elements, making it closer to Descent, and that too with vastly improved visuals. You’ll still encounter Cyber Dogs and other foes while activating switches, so don’t worry.
Dismemberment and Realistic Damage
Another new feature is dismemberment. Damage is now more realistic when targeting different body parts, and it’s possible to sever enemy limbs with attacks. Even when attacking specific weak points on robots, certain points will catch on fire after taking enough damage. Of course, the gore factor is much higher, especially when blowing up a horde of foes.
There are separate categories to adjust the difficulty for – Combat, Mission, Puzzles and Cyber. They each have a 1 to 3 range. At 1, you can expect an easier experience – enemies are fewer and take fewer hits to die, SHODAN’s security protocols aren’t as punishing, and puzzles are relatively easy to solve. Crank it up to 3, however, and you’ll run into enemies around every corner while SHODAN relentlessly tracks you, and puzzles become confounding. Overall, being able to customize each aspect and tailor your experience accordingly is nice.
Those playing on PC can actually look forward to some forgiving system requirements. Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 are all supported (64-bit only, though) along with DirectX 11, and you’ll only need 2 GB of installation space. Minimum requirements include an Intel Core i5-2400, an AMD FX-8320 or something better with 4 GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 2GB, AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB or better. Recommended requirements include a Core i7-3770, FX-8350 or better, 8 GB of RAM and a GTX 970 4 GB, Radeon R9 290 4 GB or something better.
Nvidia DLSS, 4K and High Frame Rates on PC
System Shock supports 4K resolution on PC, and if you have the right hardware, Nvidia DLSS. It allows Nvidia’s RTX 30 series to play at 120 FPS in 4K resolution. Better yet, if you play at 2560x1440p resolution, the frame rate can exceed 144 FPS on any RTX GPU. Some even cross 240 FPS, though exact system requirements for all this haven’t been detailed.